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Creating Effective Learning Spaces Begins with Vision

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By: Tom Brennan

As the head of an educational furniture company it might surprise you to know that when it comes to designing effective learning environments, the furniture is what I worry about the least. The truth is that the best learning spaces we've helped create didn't begin with color swatches or chair styles or even designing classroom layouts; they instead began with a clear vision.

After years of working with schools, I've found that people have a tendency to treat new furniture as the solution to all problems. But without careful planning and a vision that puts student success front and center, new school furniture alone is rarely enough to create effective learning spaces.

At School Outfitters, we know that educators are busy managing an unprecedented era of fast-changing pedagogies, curriculum and educational approaches. We know that educators are under a lot of pressure. What worked yesterday simply does not work today. To identify what will work best for your school or district continues to be an ever more rigorous process. There are rarely easy answers.

But despite the constraints and challenges of creating effective learning environments, the good news is that having a well thought out vision is more rewarding than ever. Schools that apply this approach often see higher student engagement, more productive classrooms, appreciative parents and supportive communities that will be impressed by your depth of planning and focus on results.

Done right, you'll discover that furniture is just one of the critical aspects of executing your plan successfully. "But where do I start," you ask? Here are four steps to begin identifying and forging a vision for your learning space:

Identify your champion

You need an internal project lead who is willing to shoot for the stars so that you can at least get to the moon. By this I mean someone who is both progressive and practical. Open-minded yet able to make decisions. Someone who can involve and engage stakeholders in the process and get them to agree to a plan. This is important and it will be very difficult to make change without this person. If you can't find them, hire them or do it yourself.

Engage stakeholders to really understand the challenge

Identify those that will be affected by the change: teachers, students, parents, etc. Find the innovators in each bunch. Ask some of that group to be your task force to help you identify the relevant questions and then go out to your community at large and start asking questions. School Outfitters has developed comprehensive lists of questions that touch on nine different aspects of the learning environment, from users to curriculum to workflow. These questions tease out the critical issues standing in the way of a successful project.

Expose the team to real examples and experts

Read case studies and white papers. Visit local and regional examples of successful spaces. Watch webinars. Attend learning conventions like EDspaces. Ask others what they like and dislike about their space and what they would do differently if given the chance. Ask them how their space supports their curriculum. Ask them about their plans for the future and how they hope to improve. Share the results of your search with your stakeholder group. Talk about it. Gain consensus. You've got to know what best practices are emerging and the only way to do that is through research. Your team has to learn enough to begin to make informed planning decisions for your school.

Define what success looks like

A vision involves two things: a vivid description of the state you hope to achieve and a concrete set of measurements to indicate you met your goals. This should be presented to your stakeholders as the fruits of your vision. Then the design process can start, informed by a careful consideration of all factors that lead to a successful roll-out. Crucial to this step is identifying how you are going to measure results on an ongoing basis.

Once these steps are followed, school furniture becomes a tool to fulfill your vision. That's when I can get excited about furniture again: when it is a key piece of a very successful program.

To find out more about how to make your process better, call our friendly sales staff at 1-800-260-2776. We're always happy to help.

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